How to Eat Seasonally During the Winter Months

  • Eating with the seasons may have additional health benefits, but it can be particularly difficult during the winter months.
  • In general, crops known for their winter hardiness include citrus fruits, leafy greens, and potatoes.
  • Be open to trying new fruits and vegetables prepared in ways that aren't familiar to you.

Eating with the seasons sounds like a delightful goal—but what about when the season is cold, dark, and gray?

Often, it seems like seasonal eating guidance shines a spotlight on the sunny summer months of juicy strawberries, crunchy ears of corn, and garden-fresh tomatoes, then goes dormant around November. Still, eating in-season produce continues to have benefits for health, the economy, and the environment all year round. 

So is it really realistic to plan your meals around in-season foods in the winter months—and what’s even available, anyway? We tapped dietitians and farmers for tips on how to make seasonal eating in the wintertime a reality.

The Benefits of Eating Seasonally

If you’ve ever had a perfectly ripe peach in June, you know how delicious in-season produce can be. The just-right taste of fruits and veggies in their prime may partially have to do with seasonal foods’ nutrient levels.

“Vitamins and minerals are heat, light, and time-sensitive. This means over a period of time, they will become less nutrient dense,” dietitian and farmer Amanda Terillo, MS, RDN, told Health. “One study found that in lettuce, levels of potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, and copper were significantly lower at the grocery store where it traveled from many miles.” 

Ultimately, this could mean you’ll derive higher levels of vitamins and minerals from eating produce soon after it’s harvested.

Some fruits and veggies may even be engineered by nature to support human health needs. “Eating seasonally can help provide you the nutrients you need during that time of year,” said plant-based dietitian Haley Bischoff, RDN, of Rūtsu Nutrition. “For example, many winter foods are higher in vitamin C, which can help you fight off colds or other seasonal illnesses.”

Then, of course, there are the environmental and economic benefits of seasonal eating. Choosing in-season food grown close to home can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, since it cuts down on the number of miles it took to reach you. And purchasing local, seasonal produce not only keeps your money in your own community, but could help bolster a local family farm.

“If you are able to support a local CSA or farmers’ market, you will actually see who you are supporting financially, which is pretty neat!” said Terillo. Meanwhile, whether you shop at the farmers’ market or the grocery store, you’ll likely find local winter items like apples and clementines are less expensive than the January raspberries flown in from South America.

Which Foods Are in Season in Winter?

The U.S. is a vast region with multiple climate zones—so what’s in season in winter in California won’t be the same as what’s available in Maine.

“Those living in warmer climates have a much greater variety of seasonal produce than those living in colder climates,” said Terillo. “In states such as Arizona, winter produce is plentiful and there is a lot to choose from! In states such as Vermont, though, winter produce is limited. You will find mostly storage crops available and some cold-hardy greens like collards and spinach.” 

In general, crops known for their winter hardiness include the following:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits
  • Kumquats
  • Kiwis
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Persimmons
  • Pomegranates
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Leafy greens like arugula, chard, collards, and bok choy
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Rutabagas
  • Onions
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes

Wondering how to get familiar with what’s growing near you? Start by checking the USDA’s seasonal produce guide or the Seasonal Food Guide, which allows you to search by both state and season.

Is Seasonal Eating Realistic in the Winter?

Clearly, eating seasonally has benefits for your health, wallet, and taste buds. But in the colder months, curating your entire plate from winter fruit and veg might sound like an overly lofty goal. 

There’s no denying that seasonal eating is more challenging in the winter, since fewer crops thrive in colder temperatures and less sunlight. And any time of year, eating with the rhythm of the calendar may not be feasible for some.

“While it is possible to eat 100% seasonally, it may not be realistic, especially if you live in a food desert, live in a climate that has extreme winters, or do not have access to a year-round farmers market or local co-op that supplies these foods,” said Terillo. “If you live in a warmer climate eating seasonally will be much easier due to the large availability of options.”

Fortunately, you’re not without resources, even when the snow is falling and the wind is howling. Start by getting educated about which foods are in season near you, then start slow. Consider adding one seasonal vegetable to your meal rotation each week. Or seek out a local CSA, farmers’ market, or co-op that sells winter produce. Local Harvest is a helpful database for finding them near you. 

Also worth noting: Because frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak and then frozen, they can also be considered in-season—even if it’s technically out-of-season by the time you eat them.

How to Incorporate More Seasonal Foods Into Your Diet in Winter

Winter may not feature the abundance of seasonal foods of spring or summer, but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy its more modest bounty. Some cold-hardy fruits and veggies are even convenient as solo snacks.

“Apples may be one of the most convenient grab-and-go snack foods out there,” said Bischoff. “Pairing an apple with a healthy nut butter gives you a balanced snack, packed with healthy carbs, fiber, fat and protein.”

Likewise, pears and citrus fruits make for easy packing in a lunchbox. Other winter fruits like pomegranate arils and kiwis can top off salads, nestle in smoothies, or grace breakfast oatmeal or yogurt parfaits.

Winter leafy greens are another simple springboard for all sorts of meals, sides, and snacks. Whip up a salad with spinach or kale—potentially with a citrus-inspired dressing—or toss some into a protein shake for a hidden boost of fiber and nutrients. Then, for an easy dinnertime side, grab a steamer basket. “Collard greens are particularly high in calcium and iron. They are an easy addition to any dinner meal and tend to be best steamed or sautéed with olive oil and garlic,” said Bischoff. 

You can also turn to soup as a melting pot of winter produce. Potatoes, onions, cauliflower, and parsnips amp up broth- or cream-based soups with hearty texture and plenty of nutrients. And winter veggies are some of the best ones to roast to caramelized perfection, whether to include in soups or enjoy on their own. “Many root vegetables can also be mashed to make a delicious puree just like potatoes,” suggested Terillo.

However you choose to add winter produce to your plate, don’t be afraid to experiment. Less-familiar options like persimmon, rutabaga, or kumquats may become new favorites to enjoy each time the season comes around.

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